Monday, December 6, 2010

Rotten Bananas

I got home a little less than a week ago. The transition has proven tricky thus far. After a tearful goodbye with the kiddos, a lot of plane rides, and some seriously good pizza in Chicago with my friend Tom, I arrived in humid, beautiful Honolulu. And it didn’t quite feel like home.  To hug my family and be in my peaceful cozy room, play Explosions in the Sky while reading my bible with candles lit from my warm comfy bed with a belly full of spicy ahi was pretty incredible, don’t get me wrong. I just felt like in the midst of everything material I had just gained; I had lost some huge intangible part of myself. 

In addition to the overwhelming spread that is America during Christmas season, I have had to come back to MY abundance of things I don’t need. The past few days have mostly been purging, cleaning, unpacking and repacking, eating (the doctor yelled at my weight lost, so I have been happily eating whole grain bagels, eggs, pasta, hummus, carrots, pomegranates, yogurt, spinach salads, chocolate, and everything else I missed since my return), and a lot of talking to my mom, Jeronimo, and Jesus about everything that is going on in my brain.

I know I will slowly adjust, learn to not cry in grocery stores and be comfortable in a coffee shop. But it would be a tragedy to revert back to life as usual here, to not let what I saw change me...

I hate ripe bananas. Few people outside of those who live in my household know this, but I really detest them. My mom makes it a point to get the greenest bananas at the grocery store. I eat them as soon as they are able to peel. I just prefer the lighter flavor, and the texture of ripe bananas just freaks me out, the brown spots, the mush, the smell. Gross.

Whilst in Uganda, however, I learned to eat ripe and even slightly rotten bananas. Fresh fruit was at times really hard to come by, and for that reason I forced myself to eat them. And after a month or two, I actually grew to enjoy them. I didn’t mind the brown spots or the intense flavor or the mush. I knew that I was eating something my body wasn’t getting enough of, and that along with eating nothing else but rice and beans, made mushy bananas pretty exciting.

That’s what I learned in Africa. To eat mushy bananas. To be grateful. To smile and enjoy, not in a grin-and-bear it kind of way, but in a genuine joy for each breath and whatever else comes with it. To thank God for everything.

Nothing will ever be perfect.

People will keep giving up real relationships for relationships with their iPhones and spend more money on their coffee annually than on folks in need. Churches will focus more on their Christmas program than on orphans and widows. Uncles will keep raping their nieces without anyone trying to stop them. Kids will keep dying of malaria. Moms will still die in childbirth all alone.

But not all people, churches, uncles, kids and moms.

Light bulbs are being turned on, bibles are being opened, and the love and desire for possessions forgotten.

The scales are falling, you see. Simplicity, kindness, thankfulness and love are being rooted in selfish sassy girls like me. And because of that, because of the grace of God turning our insecure messes of selves into vessels of His love, the world is going to change. 


Well, I am no longer in Africa. This will be my last post. Thank you so much anyone and everyone who took the time to read what I wrote here. Blessings! 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Africa didn’t make decisions for me, solve all my problems, or turn me into Mother Teresa.

I came here with no presumptions, or so I thought.

As I boarded the plane from London to Entebbe, I thought “Here we go, I have no idea what the next four months will look like, but I am excited for it!” And in a very real sense, I had no idea what was coming. I had no idea where I was sleeping that night, how long we were staying in Gulu, if the kids were coming to the land, how I would be occupying my days. But I certainly had an idea of the person I would emerge as after all said and done.

I left for this trip very unsure about a lot of things.

I bought a one-way plane ticket to Denver a few days before I left. My years of planning to go to nursing school in Hawaii were traded for a completely last-minute spontaneous decision to go to nursing school in Colorado.

After a year of singleness and contentment with the idea of being single forever, I started having coffee with a man who did not in any way fit into my plan or my idea of what a dateable man looked like. Thinking ‘okay, he really loves God, makes me think, and, really, it is probably good for me to socialize outside of my unvaried friend group. If nothing else it will be a good social experiment’, I accidentally fell in love.

My heart has always been tugged in the direction of the third-world. Reading about and seeing documentaries filled with crushing stories of child prostitutes and soldiers, women tricked into selling their bodies, maternal mortality rates, and endless cycles of poverty made me furious. I had a firm idea that I wanted to spend my life in the midst of it all, fighting for God’s children.

In short, I thought four months in Africa would resolve all these issues. I would decide if the move to Colorado was the right one or I would come to my senses and stay home, I would have an epiphany whether I was meant for a life of celibacy or marriage, if I was meant for a life in the third world or the first.

More than all of this, I thought I would lose all sense of self here. I thought I would care about nothing but the orphans I was working with. I thought every bit of me that was greedy and unkind and preoccupied with self would die off.

Well, none of that happened. At least not in the way I thought.

I read through the New Testament while here, and one of the first books I read was James, which holds this jem: Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit."
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

If the Lord wills, I am moving to Colorado, because it is a sound, smart decision. School will be cheaper, I’ll get done quicker, the program is better, and it will force me out of my comfort zone. A big thing we discussed between our group was the will of God, how it works, how to decipher it. Your pray through things, you get holy and happy in Jesus, and you live life, is the conclusion we more or less arrived at.

I have the love of a seriously amazing man. And if the Lord wills, I will continue to have his love. After much turmoil, I found peace in the knowledge that God holds my future, so I don’t need to worry about it, or try to make plans concerning it.

After months of playing with, teaching, and being the nurse to 67 orphans, I can tell you whole-heartedly I am in love with them. I cannot comprehend parent’s love for their children after learning how much my heart can burst for these kids. I like living in a grass hut, they are cool and simple, besides the dirt, I would prefer one to a house. Bucket showers are nice too, doing my own laundry by hand and eating the same thing twice a day has taught me appreciate things a lot more, and how little I need to survive and be happy. I am certainly not as well nourished or presentable as I am in the states, but I am healthy and joyful. I could live this way forever, and if the Lord wills, I shall. My fierce and unyielding desire to live in the third world is gone. I feel as though my hands have released the tight grip on my future. I have at last found trust that God really does love, protect, and want good for me. So with a deep breath (I have been taking a lot of those lately), I continue living for today, and see what tomorrow holds.

I am still flawed, selfish, and inconsiderate. I still put myself above others and care how I feel/look/am treated. I have trouble emerging from bed at night to but a band aid on Gladys or a hot pack on Justine because I want to sleep. I still have trouble resisting rolling my eyes, making a sassy comment, or writing people off when I am offended. I am still a mess, But perhaps slightly less of one, or maybe just more in awe and utterly thankful that I am forgiven of it all.

I also learned some unexpected things along the way….

That nursing isn’t just a means to an end (midwifery). I really love it!
Attitude can make or break your day.
To love people and be kind to them without any hope of kindness returned.
How to forgive, really forgive.
How to be joyful despite being ignored and overlooked.
To be still and know.
To be content in relationship with God alone. That he really is my light, salvation, refuge, and an ever-present help.
The value of memorizing scripture.
I always thought I would work primarily with women, but I have found that my favorite people here are twelve year old boys. Every single person is worthy of value, attention, and love, even the male sex.
How endlessly weak, selfish, and sinful I am, and how good and endless God’s grace is. The more I learn to walk in it the easier it is to live in the light.

I write this on Thanksgiving, which I feel is entirely appropriate.
The people I have met here have certainly taught me a lot about gratitude.
To close this, I will tell you, dear readers, a few things I am thankful for on this fine day.

The ability to wake up every morning and run and breathe and sing and dance.
My giant family of friends that I can pray, laugh, and live life with.
Music and sunsets and birth and everything else that fills me with wonder and awe.
The shade that trees offer, the breeze that cools the day, and Remi splashing water on me from his bucket tub.
For Fred’s crazy faces and Norman’s old man voice and Clinton’s hugs.
For my favorite walking, picnic, and dancing partner, head-kiss giver and pastry chef, Jeronimo.
I am thankful for Jesus. His love, grace, and beauty that makes life so amazing and that I have become increasingly aware of.

See you soon,

Sunday, November 21, 2010


The past week was spent journeying around Nairobi. It was pretty incredible, from eating pesto and hummus to feeding giraffes to seeing the biggest slum in Africa and hearing women with AIDS share their stories of hope.

Along the way we met people who made our trip what it was. Norah, a beautiful Kenyan woman, saved us in the immigration line, and made sure we got safely to our lodge. Don and Pat recommended we go visit the WEEP center (Women equality and empowerment programme), the safari park, and eat at Tritorria, the best Italian food I’ve had outside of Italy. They also gave us their car to use for two days, for free. When I told them separately I was moving to the Denver area (where they live) come December, the first thing both of them said was “there is always a free bed in our house for you if you need it!”

On our way back to Kampala it hit me. We had a hotel room for two nights and nothing else. I sat in total astonishment of how well God takes care of His kids, how He sends angels and orchestrates everything, how He really works everything for the good of those who love Him.

How can you do anything but sing and dance and praise?

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I have been making a running list of ‘things I don’t want to forget’ in my journal; little snippets of life here that make each day glorious. Most of them are ways the kids have made me cry with joy and brightened my day.

Time is getting shorter and shorter and the kids are leaving soon, and before they do (and we also) I wanted to share with you what exactly makes this place so amazing to me personally:

Mama Cath welcoming me over every time I go to the bathroom. “Suzie, you come for chai, you are welcome!!”

Playing music for the kids and spinning around in circles with Gladys blasting Ingrid Michaelson.

Solomon telling me my stomach and intestines will cry “brrrr” because I drank glitter water.

Sharon’s bear hugs, pulling back to look and smile at me and then burying herself back into my chest.

The children bursting into laughter at the notion of drinking six cups of water a day.

Ocen’s strong handshakes and giant smile.

Pastor David borrowing my birth books and asking me questions about how to help his wife in labor (any talk about birth makes my day!)

Remi with his serious face, filthy clothes (if he is wearing any), and runny nose, putting up his arms for me to hold him.

Craft time, where the kids make us all tons of amazing art covered in glitter, googly eyes, and love.

Justine giving me 53 (slight exaggeration) perfectly crafted bracelets a day, and every night telling Brynn “Big hug to Suzie for me!”

Fireflies, the most stars I have ever seen, and lightning every night as I brush my teeth.

Clinton trying to logic with me why I should never leave.

The kids faces when they pray: I have never seen such real crying out, thanking, and praise to God.

8-18 year old children making it a point to pray for their teachers when they are sick, meet every night to study and pray, sing worship songs every morning, all without any kind of supervision.

Moji- the plural of Mojish (Moses), and Morrish (Maurice).

“For me, I am..” “Me also” “This one is soooo stubborn.” “I am Aggy!” and all the other wonderful Ugandan phrases we have picked up.

Solomon shouting “Hey Suz! Look over there!!!!” and when I glance over, shoving his extra food onto my plate.

The ridiculousness of African orphans trying to force-feed us.

Solomon holding up a lightning bug and proclaiming “It’s buttock is shining” with a huge grin.

Stella, the whole girl. From finding us to give us all sketchy corn that she made, to taking the shoes off our feet to wash them. I have never met anyone more like Christ.

Patrick’s sound effect for ‘fearing girls’.

Gloria putting berries into my mouth from the tree branch above and have hip slamming battles with me (damn my inferior 20 year old white hips to twelve year old African girl hips)

Aggy’s falsetto singing perfectly accompanied by her swinging clap.

Every single “Look Suz! I am brushing my teeth/wearing shoes/ going to the library to check out a book/drinking water/coming to you as soon as I got a cut!” (I taught health class and we set up a library, you see, and it was amazing to know they were listening!)

67 bear hugs before I go to sleep every night.

Janet coming up to me and proudly announcing that Leilah bandaged her!

The boys telling Brynn and Erin my leg hair is ‘very good’.

Norman telling Tom his Mohawk is ‘very nice fashion’.

The children coming to the nurses office and chanting “Suzie is the best nurse! Suzie is the best nurse!” in Acholi.

Double handed waves from children as we pass them on the street.

When I feel emotionally overloaded and everything feels too tough and I feel sick and ugly and tired and I announce “Children! I need a hug!”, everyone comes running.

It is clear that these children have blessed me abundantly. They have certainly given me much more to me than I could have possibly given them. They are such precious treasures, one's I will never forget, one's that have changed me forever.

Note: I always try to write this in such a way that portrays I am here with a team. I am, and we do most things together. But I thought this would be more meaningful if I did it from a personal standpoint. Excuse the focus on myself!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Currently Pondering:

"There are those who in their very first seeking of it are nearer to the Kingdom of Heaven than many who have for years believed themselves of it. In the former there is more the mind of Jesus, and when He calls them they recognize Him at once and go after Him; while the others examine Him from head to food, and finding Him not sufficiently like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs and go to church or chapel or chamber to kneel before a vague form mingled of tradition and fancy." - George MacDonald

Saturday, October 30, 2010


This week instead of spending the time I usually spend writing a blog, I had a dance party with the children and a keyboard. Love you all!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

An Ode to Kevin

Today is a day ended with legitimate gratefulness to be alive. Leilah and I, along with our less than trusty boda driver, our backpacks, our purses and a few other things piled onto a moped and took a 20 mile journey through the African bush. Our dirty, sunburned selves were greeted by a dozen happy children, welcoming us back with bear hugs. We sang and danced. And now I sit here, still dirty and now a little sweaty, very happy to be alive, am going to share with you my wealth of knowledge (sarcasm here) about how to make foreign aide work.

I have been running out of things to write about. Not to imply that their is nothing note-worthy taking place here. I could write four pages on how much I love Justine and how the things he says make my heart explode with joy. How Norbert's life at eleven has been more difficult than any other story of an individual I have ever heard. How much eating rice and beans twice a day is making me appreciate simplicity, being content, and the deliciousness of food all at once. The possibilities are pretty much endless. So if there is by any chance anything you want to hear about, please tell me!

Now to follow Kevin's request:

Reading every morning and night has proven to be a habit for most of us. A few of the books we share are about social justice and aide. This is where I pull a little bit of what I now believe to be sound advice, but most of it comes from living in the midst of a well-run NGO.

Thing One: As few white people as possible.

People need to be educated, buildings need to be built, and food needs to be grown by their own people. That way, things are done culturally appropriately, and they are set up in a way that will work for them. Looking at things practically, bringing in other ideas from the West is sometimes necessary. And it's good. As long as people are equipped to teach, built, and grow, and can teach others how to.

Thing Two: Education, education, education.

Geared towards the next generation, and moms. When people are expected to do well, and told they can, incredible things happen. Especially in places where knowledge is not so accessible. We teach English, and I have never seen ten year old kids so engaged, focused, and excited to learn about verbs. They are future social workers, lawyers, doctors, politicians, if only someone gives a damn and educates them. Things like health care fall under this category. There is a ton of value in short-term medical missions. Awesome. Do it. But real change will happen when more Ugandans and Cambodians and Haitians go to medical school and can help their own people. It all starts with some kind of school. Because of a micro-loan from my grandma a single mom can go to school to become a seamstress and afford her babies anti-malarial medicine from a doctor whose education was paid for by a couple from Tallahassee who wanted to do something nice, which brings me to my next point...

Thing Three: People to people

It works both ways. When there is a face to a sponsor, when there is a face to the person you are helping feed and educate, things change. It's no longer a meal or a check written for charity. It is someone you can love, pray for, hear from.

Thing four: Projects

Wells, beads, schools, and banana fiber menstrual pads get attention. People like supporting something when they know where their money is going directly. And finally...

Thing Five: "Come and See"

If we want things to change, we have to start with ourselves. If you want to love the poor, you have to meet them, get to know them. See that they are just like you and I, and are just stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty. We can change their circumstances. With thirty bucks we can buy a new pair of jeans we don't need or we can lend it to a kid in Africa to go to driving school so that he can take care of his siblings.

Now. Let me re-state that I know very little about all this, am probably wrong about a lot of things, and excluding a lot of really important things.